Steamboat Springs There was a time when Triple Crown Sports tournaments in Steamboat Springs made up 25 percent to 30 percent of the sports-tourism company's business. But 27 years later, the Steamboat games are only the No. 4 revenue generator for a company that hosts major events in 250 U.S. cities.
President Dave King says it's time to decide whether Triple Crown has outgrown Steamboat.
"Steamboat is still very important to us," King said Wednesday. "But how long we can stay there is a question."
It's not the first time King has discussed the possibility of leaving. But King said he has never formally requested proposals from other communities that could replace Steamboat - until now.
City officials will take a road trip Friday that could play a major role in determining Triple Crown's future in Steamboat. City Council President Loui Antonucci, City Manager Alan Lanning, Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Director Chris Wilson and another council member will travel to Triple Crown headquarters in Fort Collins to meet King. It will be the first direct negotiations King has had with council members or a Steamboat city manger in recent memory.
"The dialogue has got lost over time," King said. "We're too substantial now - and you're too substantial to us - not to have dialogue with City Council. I've seen a new willingness to do that."
Antonucci said he is not sure why City Council has allowed the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association to negotiate its contracts with Triple Crown for so long, but said City Council has to be at the table as the key decision maker to represent the broader interests of the community.
"I don't know when the last time the council was actually involved in talking with them," he said. "I think there's a huge communication gap."
Triple Crown hosts baseball and softball tournaments in Northwest Colorado for several weeks during the summer and is a primary driver of the local summer economy. A study released in May by Denver-based consultants Corona Research found that Triple Crown brings about 32,000 visitors and $1.19 million in tax revenues to Northwest Colorado each summer. But the tournaments anger some residents who cite excessive traffic and noise concerns caused by the influx of summer visitors.
The debate has become particularly contentious in recent weeks because of Triple Crown's request to use fields at Emerald Park in 2009-10 as part of a contract extension. To date, the fields have been reserved for local use. But King and city officials said the parties have to do more than simply find a two-year fix for their relationship.
"I don't want to go down (to Fort Collins) to talk about two years," said Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, who might join Friday's contingent and believes Triple Crown exceeded Steamboat's comfort level years ago.
If the city cannot accommodate Triple Crown's needs for 2011 and beyond, King said, there's no sense in making a short-term deal anyway. Specifically, those needs include a larger quantity of quality fields. There has been talk of a regional sports complex in Hayden, but little progress.
"Are these things the community wants to be responsible for," King asked. "Or is it something that should probably be done somewhere else?
"Do we fit into the long-term? Because if we don't, now's the time. It's time. : We have dealt with what moving on means."
King said he has grown tired of playing on fields scattered from Craig to Yampa, having his growth constrained by a lack of fields and driving in to town to be greeted by signs such as one that pictured three crossed-out crowns.
"You can't play both sides forever," King said. "You can't have all the tourists but none on the street. You can't fill the restaurants except when you're there. You have to make a decision of what you're going to be. That's tough for a small town. That's a tough struggle."
Hayden fields eyed
Antonucci said he understands King's business concerns and hopes to gain some insight Friday into his long-term plans.
"I think our intent is No. 1 to work a short-term solution and to at least get the discussion going about the long-term," Antonucci said. "Their competition is starting to gain on them. They need to figure out how they're going to grow their business. We as City Council don't know what their long-term plans are."
Antonucci said that, personally, he considers the loss of Triple Crown an unacceptable outcome.
"I think it would be really costly to this community," Antonucci said. "To go cold turkey would be really hard for a number of years."
Antonucci said he hopes an alternative that spares Emerald Park will, at least for the short term, reconcile a council currently split on the issue of Triple Crown. One such alternative is the use of fields at Dry Creek Park in Hayden, but the town does not have the money to complete them. At a meeting today of the Hayden Town Board, Town Manager Russ Martin will ask if the trustees want to send a letter to the chambers in Steamboat, Hayden and possibly Craig, requesting that businesses contribute money toward the $125,000 cost of completing the fields. The proposal faces a similar challenge as the Emerald Park idea, Martin said, because Dry Creek Park was intended for local use. But Martin said the Town Board might be willing to consider the idea if it means the fields get built.
"We didn't make a promise to anyone, but it was our intent to get these fields for our needs and capacity," Martin said. "That's our intent, but it's important for us to look at an opportunity."
Hermacinski said she would be open to Steamboat funding the completion of the fields if businesses will not. She said the sales tax Triple Crown generates for the city would make the investment a wise one, "especially if that money is going to a partner community in the valley."